With the collapse of FTX and Alameda so close on the heels of Celsius, one thing is clear – the regulatory and enforcement storm so many anticipated coming to crypto is now here. Unfortunately, regardless of what the facts surrounding FTX and Alameda ultimately turn out to be, incidents like this serve to reinforce the
SEC’s Insider Trading Complaint Places the Entire DeFi and Crypto Industry in a Bind
On July 21, 2022, the SEC filed insider trading charges in federal court against a former Coinbase product manager and two others for trading ahead of multiple announcements that certain crypto assets would be made available for trading on the platform. The SEC alleged that the defendants traded ahead of listing announcements for at…
Securities Law Implications of Lummis-Gillibrand Bill
On June 7, 2022, Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Responsible Financial Innovation Act (RFIA), which seeks to create a complete regulatory framework for digital assets. This is the second in a series of blogs on this groundbreaking bipartisan legislation. Click here for a general overview of the bill and a summary of the tax provisions included in the RFIA.
The RFIA attempts to create a clear standard for determining which digital assets are securities and which are commodities, and draws clear jurisdictional lines between the SEC and CFTC. The SEC would retain jurisdiction over the sale of investment contracts, while the CFTC would gain jurisdiction over the digital asset spot markets. CFTC Chairman Rostin Benham quickly declared his support of the proposed division of labor, while SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has expressed concerns that the legislation may undermine existing market regulations for stock exchanges, mutual funds, and public companies. The policy debate over which of the two agencies is best situated to regulate the crypto markets will likely grow louder in the wake of this proposal.
With respect to securities laws, the RFIA seeks to solve the long-standing problem of the application of the Howey test to digital assets: how long does the security label attach to a digital asset that was initially sold as an investment contract? Application of the full panoply of securities laws to every transaction in a digital asset can stifle the growth of a network and create headaches for entities seeking to comply with complex rules that don’t always fit the underlying conduct.
This update provides a summary of the securities law provisions and obligations placed upon the SEC in the RFIA.…
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OFAC Issues Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry
On October 15, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued anticipated Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry and updated two related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs 559 and 646). OFAC has published industry-specific guidance for only a handful of other industries in the past two decades; the new guidance demonstrates the agency’s increasing focus on the virtual currency (VC) sector. It also clarifies US sanctions compliance practices in ways that could lay a foundation for future OFAC enforcement actions.
OFAC’s guidance was announced as part of broader US government enforcement priorities to combat ransomware, money laundering, and other financial crimes in the virtual currency sector, as noted in the Department of Justice’s recent announcement of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team. The OFAC guidance was published in tandem with a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) analysis of ransomware trends in suspicious activity reporting, but the guidance is directed at the VC industry in general and is not specific to ransomware. A ransomware actor who demands VC may or may not be a target of OFAC sanctions, and sanctioned actors may engage in a wide variety of VC transactions that do not involve ransomware. The recommended compliance practices in OFAC’s new guidance are focused on the full range of sanctions risks that arise from virtual currencies.
The guidance maintains OFAC’s longstanding recommendation for risk-based compliance programs, and builds on the May 2019 Framework for OFAC Compliance Commitments. The guidance also provides notable examples of compliance controls that are tailored to the unique risk and control environments of the VC sector.…
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Treasury Proposes Enhanced Cryptocurrency Tax Reporting
On May 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) released the American Families Plan Tax Compliance Agenda, a report detailing the Biden administration’s proposed measures to raise $700 billion in additional tax revenue over the next decade through the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and its enforcement-related efforts (the “Report”). Additional detail about these…
FinCEN Seeks Comments on Effectiveness of AML Programs, Presenting Rare Opportunity for FinTech and Blockchain Companies
On September 16, 2020, the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comments on regulatory changes to enhance the effectiveness of anti-money laundering compliance programs of regulated financial institutions. As described in FinCEN’s press release, the ANPRM presents an opportunity for financial institutions to provide comments on “a wide range of questions pertaining to potential regulatory amendments under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).” While FinCEN has published a number of rules in recent years through formal notice and comment procedures, the rules have been fairly targeted to issues such as customer due diligence. FinCEN has also issued a number of guidance documents, including guidance applying FinCEN’s rules to certain entities in the blockchain industry, but did not accept public comments from industry at the time. Therefore, the publication of the ANPRM presents a relatively rare opportunity for regulated entities to be heard on a range of AML programmatic and compliance issues.
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OCC Leans Forward on FinTech and Digital Assets
As regulators from across the US government continue to grapple with the rapid expansion of financial technology (FinTech) and digital assets, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has adopted a welcoming position toward such technology and taken three recent steps with the potential to significantly benefit industry. First, the OCC is planning to propose a new national bank charter for payments companies, including those dealing with digital assets, that may allow such companies to obtain a single national license rather than licenses in each state in which they operate. Second, on July 22, 2020, the OCC issued an interpretive letter clarifying that national banks and federal savings associations may provide cryptocurrency custody solutions on behalf of their customers. Third, on June 4, 2020, the OCC issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking comments on the digital activities of national banks and federal savings associations. All three developments have the potential for significant, positive impact on industry.
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New York Publishes New Guidance and Proposed Changes to BitLicense on Five-Year Anniversary
On June 24, the five-year anniversary of New York’s virtual currency licensing regime known as the BitLicense, the New York Department Financial Services (DFS) published new guidance and FAQs related to approval for use of specific currencies and the licensing process, as well as a proposed conditional licensing framework. The measures offer important insight for companies holding or considering applying for a BitLicense and represent the most significant changes and proposed changes since the regulation’s initial issuance in 2015.
Guidance for Adoption or Listing of Virtual Currencies
Under the BitLicense regime, licensees and approved charter holders under the New York Banking Law (collectively, “VC Entities”) are required include virtual currencies (“coins”) they plan to “list” in their initial application to DFS. Historically, in order to list new assets VC Entities were required to go back to DFS to seek approval. Given the proliferation in coins available over the past five years this became a cumbersome and time-consuming system. In order to remedy this issue, in December of 2019, DFS issued proposed guidance to allow licensees to “offer and use new coins in a timely and prudent manner.” After receiving public comments, DFS has now published final guidance creating “two separate frameworks designed to enhance speed and efficiency in a VC Entity’s adoption or listing of coins.” These two frameworks include (1) “a general framework for a VC Entity’s creation of a firm-specific policy for the adoption or listing of a new coin, without DFS’s prior approval, through the process of self-certification” and (2) “a general framework for the process of Greenlisting coins for wider usage.”…
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Proposed SEC Safe Harbor Could Provide New Tokens With an Enforcement Grace Period Before Hitting Open Water
In a series of remarks over the past year, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce laid the groundwork for a potential SEC safe harbor for developmental token offerings, which could provide a registration exemption for three years to give token networks a sufficient incubation period to achieve “maturity.”
The theory behind the proposed safe harbor is that the current regulatory framework functions as a barrier to launching token networks because offerors fear they may be treated as securities before they have time to mature into decentralized networks. The safe harbor would exempt certain tokens, subject to various conditions, with the aim of creating a regulatory environment that promotes fairness and predictability, while encouraging new offerings and the concomitant competition and innovation that could flow therefrom.…
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Blockchain Takes Over Episode 261 of the Cyberlaw Podcast
On April 29, blockchain took over the Cyberlaw Podcast once again with Alan Cohn, Gary Goldsholle, Will Turner, and guest speaker, Jeff Bandman, covering all things blockchain and cryptocurrency. We dove right into the recent activity from the SEC, namely, the Framework for “Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets and the No-Action Letter issued to TurnKey Jet, Inc. (TurnKey) for a digital token. …
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